Post-it Note Problems

April 14, 2020
Andrew DiMeo

At CanvasGT we’re tackling some big problems.  Some examples include traceability in medical device design and scope creep in new product development.  The most complex problems are best addressed with simple solutions.

Let’s talk about Post-it Notes.  I’ve used them for both medical device design and new product development.  Post-its are great for many things from organizing thoughts to acting as reminders.  Their feature presentation: the facilitated brainstorming session. In some cases, Post-its are the superior tool.  For example, to keep ingredients for a recipe temporarily affixed to the microwave.

Alas, this post is about Post-it Note problems.  Why focus on their shortcomings?

At CavasGT we are incorporating the best of Post-it Notes as applied to a modern world of collaboration.  In that context, can the Post-it be improved? To explore this topic further, I started with a fresh stack of Post-its.

It was a two-and-a-half hour process from the last sentence to this one.  That, in and of itself was a learning experience. Throughout the rest of this post you’ll find a semi-true-to-original list of Post-it notes recorded from the exercise.  Why semi-true? Because I made some edits when transferring the information from the Post-its to this post. The complete list is enlightening clustered into the lessons learned that follow.

Open the plastic package experience

  • Needed to locate a knife
  • Toss the plastic (toward trash bin) but fell onto the floor
  • Needed to locate a Sharpie first
  • (Had to select and clean a surface for the exercise)

Getting started was a time consuming process with a few minor annoyances.  With the CanvasGT digital platform this time is saved by launching the session right from the web browser.

During set up, my wife was getting ready for work.  I captured a few thoughts on Post-it Problems prior to her walking out the door.

Quotes from my wife:

  • “My entire trash can is filled with them”
  • “When you get them wet, they bleed”
  • “Either they’re too sticky or not sticky enough”
  • “I’ve had them rip the paper they were attached too”
  • “Most of the time they are not reusable”
  • “Either my handwriting is too big or too small”

How about we eliminate the trash and make a resource that is reusable, readable, and font size formattable?  We can do that. It wasn’t long after she left for work that I realized the surface I chose was running out of room, and quickly began to capture the following (while preparing a new surface):

Space and Time Constraints

  • This surface isn’t big enough
  • Need to move them
  • Cleaned and prepped one surface
  • Cleaned and prepped a second surface
  • Not the best lighting
  • How long will I bogart this table and bar?
  • Home just isn’t the best place to do this
  • That last note took up two post-its
  • Might like to walk away & pick up later
  • Later today, Tomorrow, Next week?
  • Really need a dedicated creative space

With CanvasGT, space and time are no longer constraints.  Most importantly, with a virtual whiteboard, space is infinite and time forever.  Just the idea of being able to walk away and revisit this project again later is a significant value add.  I might like to expand on these problems and brainstorm new and related topics in the days, weeks, and months to come.

As the bar and table filled with more notes, I realized there were many ways to slice and dice the information.  This process started to feel like a one-shot deal. I’d fill the surfaces, maybe reorganize the notes once, photograph them, and move on.  These notes filled the table further:

One or minimal ways to organize

  • Kind of a one-shot deal
  • At least a pain to reorganize
  • Can see grouping these into different clusters
  • 1 cluster = 1 riff
  • Will we do more (riffs)?
  • No idea what order I wrote these
  • What led to what?
  • (Difficult to) Sort by… (and Re-sort over and over by…)
  • Time stamp, Who contributed the thought, Category, Label, Color, Priority, Votes, etc.
  • Some Framework – Multiple Frameworks
  • SWOT, Business Model Canvas, Venn Diagram, Mindmap, etc.

CanvasGT is more than a virtual whiteboard with notes, it’s a pragmatic space too.  Information can be sorted, resorted, clustered, and re-clustered in multiple ways that resemble whiteboards and tables of information.  Various frameworks will allow exploration, expansion, and/or focus of the information.

So here I was alone, except for the few quotes from my wife before she walked out the door.  CanvasGT can be used alone. It can also be used to collaborate. So, what are some of the ways Post-it Notes could be better for a group?

Collaboration Issues

  • Ideally need to be (working) at the same time
  • Ideally need to be physically together
  • Too many words results in too small text
  • Reading other peoples’ handwriting
  • Accessibility
  • Visually impaired
  • (Need to be) Handwritten – can’t dictate
  • Single medium (of communication)
  • Can sketch, but a little small
  • Can’t include
  • Photos & Screen grabs
  • Links to references
  • Videos, Sound bites, Documents, Websites, etc.

A traditional collaboration needs to take place together and at the same time.  We can do that with CanvasGT.  But we can also collaborate from different locations at the same time.  We can also collaborate from different locations at different times. With CanvasGT, I can challenge the team:

“Everyone come up with a minimum of 20 ways to improve the Post-it Note experience. Please take the next week to do this on your own time.”

Asynchronous brainstorming enabled.

More interesting from this grouping was a cluster around Accessibility.  Indeed, the ability to read and write handwritten notes is a must for using  traditional Post-its.  With CanvasGT, we will be able to develop accessible options such as entering notes by dictation and/or listening to the notes.  I imagine that as the company matures, so will an entire effort to ensure accessibility and collaboration by all.

This area grew from there with respect to limitations of the medium.  With CanvasGT, we can include a more rich experience to the notes with sketches, photos, screen grabs and links to videos, sound recordings, documents, and websites.

As the table was filling up, I started to realize more and more that I’d eventually need to move the notes from there (the bar and table) to here (my computer).  And so, the following cluster emerged:

Transferring notes to another medium

  • Photograph them
  • Manually type them into computer
  • (Responsibility) Left to one person
  • Power? Burden? Bias?

In terms of a group collaboration, is the task of photographing and transcribing the notes a burden or position of power?  I guess that depends on the person. Either way, it seems like a biased position to be in. Even I, as the sole producer of notes and sole transcriber of notes, tweaked their meaning by adding what I believe to be clarification, but from my own biased perspective.  With CanvasGT, original thoughts from each collaborator are captured as written. CanvasGT minimizes bias and increases truth in collaboration.

My last two notes on the table looked like this:

  • I feel pressure to finish & clean up
  • I’m not looking forward to recording all this

Not exactly the feeling one wants to have at the end of what was otherwise a fun and creative session.

Wrapping up the synthesis of the notes, there remained a few left uncategorized.  I’ll leave two out (they can be found in the photographs or assumed less important by the transcriber).  However, one did stand out: The environmental impact of the plastic packaging. That of the paper itself.  The manufacturing of the glue to make them sticky. The use of markers. After all, my wife did mention at the very beginning: “My entire trash can is filled with them”.  Anything that is better for the environment is worth exploring.

Before I finished the synthesizing of the notes, something unexpected happened.  My wife texted that she was coming home early. My final notes were not made with Sharpie, but by adding to the list already generated.  They looked like this:

  • Uh oh, wife’s coming home early
  • I’m modifying the notes as I’m recording them
  • I’m done, but I’m not done, I’m adding notes to the list after the session is over
  • I’m losing some of the visual references of the notes and their relationship to each other
  • Wife’s home:
  • “Do you mind if I work on this table?”
  • “Sure, you can clean them up, or I can clean them up.”

There was one more bullet, but I deleted it for dramatic (biased) effect.  And, well, you can see from the photograph how the notes ended up.

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